Written by Kaira

Modified & Updated: 05 Sep 2023

Sherman Smith

Reviewed by Sherman Smith

most intelligent animals, group of animals

The most intelligent animals put a lot of humans to shame. We humans may be dubbed as the smartest of all animals but some argue differently. Some of the most intelligent animals can beat us in many certain ways. For one, a lot of them excel in mundane tasks with or without training. Their sense of understanding surprised even the most experienced scientist!

Believe it or not, you might have one of the most intelligent animals living in your home rent-free. There’s a reason why dogs and cats are considered pets. In the wild, some animals rely more on their wit than their strength to survive. The ones on our list may come as a shock to you so as early as now, you should know that most of them can beat you in various cognitive tests.

What makes the most intelligent animals stand out from the rest?

You might wonder how some of the most intelligent animals came to be. Intelligence itself applies to different situations. You can test anyone to check their skill levels on language comprehension, problem-solving, self-recognition, etc. Primates aren’t the only ones that can undergo these tests. Several other animals have proven themselves capable of keeping up with humans.

Experts stated that all vertebrates display their smartness in different degrees. Mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish have been surviving in their habitats because of their inherent intelligence. Even invertebrates like cephalopods surprised scientists with the way they adapt to unexpected situations. They all kept up with the times not only with their brawn but also their brains.

How do we find the smartest animals in the world?

Learning about the most intelligent animals lies in their ability to make decisions. They continue to surprise even the most experienced scientists with their new cognitive skills. You don’t need to look far to find the smartest animals. Like we said, even cats and dogs have managed to impress experts with their ever-changing routines. Even chickens and pigs on farms might outsmart you soon.

In short, the smartest animals in the world exist everywhere. Most may not be capable of speech but talking doesn’t measure one’s intelligence. Check out our list to see which ones already are or have become a part of your life.

Table of Contents

Don’t attempt to deceive an octopus.

Octopus, most intelligent animals
Source: Isabel Galvez on Unsplash

You probably have an idea of how smart an octopus can be. In the documentary Blue Planet II, one of the sequences included an octopus pulling off a successful escape from a shark attack. It used its predator’s weak point to defend itself before escaping to safety. But how did the octopus know the shark’s vulnerability?

The octopus can be found included in the group of cephalopods. Along with squids and cuttlefish, octopuses gained fame for their intelligence. Various accounts about encounters with various octopuses went viral online. A certain story left us in awe because it showcased the octopus’ keen observation skills.

According to an old PETA article, officials at a New Zealand marine center taped shut the tank of an octopus named Sid. They came up with this decision after Sid successfully escaped from his tank on several occasions. We can’t help but wonder how the cephalopod knew the exact moments the officials would lower their guards. Did it study the schedules to ensure the success of its escapes? We can only speculate what really transpired. We would think twice before deceiving an octopus.

Elephants are known to value relationships.

Elephants, most intelligent animals
Source: Mylon Ollila on Unsplash

Don’t be shocked to learn that one of the largest creatures alive today is also one of the most intelligent animals ever. Some countries in Asia continue to tame elephants to entertain tourists. However, elephants are not made for amusement. Over the years, they have learned to adapt to human customs and even have a love-hate relationship because of how they are treated.

Researchers published a study about the relationship of a herd of elephants with their trainers at Knysna Elephant Park in West Cape, South Africa. Elephants caught from the wild have formed strong bonds with their tamers. They playfully interact with tourists and volunteers without showing any signs of hostility. This display proves that we can never be sure about an elephant’s behavior. They can be as unpredictable as humans when it comes to their relationships.

Fall for the cuteness of sea otters.

Sea otters
Source: Kieran Wood on Unsplash

We won’t blame you if you consider sea otters as one of the cutest animals you’ve set your eyes on. But don’t let the marine animal’s appearance fool you! More than being cutesy, sea otters are highly intelligent and “savage” creatures. For one, they actually use tools, with some scientists believing them to be pioneers of animals who have shown such amazing phenomena.

Now you might say things have escalated fast, but aside from their fascinating skills, sea otters also have a reputation for being serial killers. Yes, you read that right. These adorable marine animals can violently kill their own kin. Male otters, for instance, won’t hesitate to kill females for food. They also become aggressive when it’s mating season. Even wilder is that their aggressiveness could lead to necrophilia.

Great White Sharks use their brains not just their brawn.

Great White Shark
Source: Gerald Schömbs on Unsplash

Our list of the most intelligent animals won’t be complete without this notorious ocean predator. Various experts continuously attempt to clear out the stereotype that we all think of when it comes to the Great White Sharks. If you’ve seen Jaws and got traumatized by it, you should know that they don’t just go for the kill like the film demonstrated.

Instead, Great White Sharks patiently study the behavior of their prey. They observe their target’s routine before coming up with an effective strategy. Wild chases are also not a Great White Shark thing as they prefer to luring in their prey. It’s highly unlikely but if ever you find yourself faced with a Great White, know that you have plenty of time to swim to your escape!

Watch out when dolphins become too playful.

Source: Flavio Gasperini on Unsplash

Dolphins always end up in various lists that explain the behavior of some of the most intelligent animals in the world. These fascinating marine creatures are widely known because of their ability to perform tricks, mostly in ocean parks. Captive dolphins showcasing entertaining interactions with their trainers still continue to spark debates among animal lovers.

To keep themselves safe, dolphins use their ultrasound abilities to distract or escape from various ocean predators. They also use their skills to distinguish your danger to them. If they let you around their space, you might get the chance to play with them! However, don’t forget to watch out as a dolphin’s playfulness can be rough.

Experienced scuba divers know better than to hang around dolphins during their dives. These marine animals tend to become sexually aggressive with some of their playmates. They seem harmless but they force females to mate by forming a small gang before killing calves. They also bully other marine animals like porpoises for no good reason.

You can’t fool an African grey parrot.

African Grey Parrot
Source: Tausif Ahmed on Unsplash

Parrots leave most of us in awe with their ability to mimic humans. The African grey parrot stands out for showcasing its skill of recognizing a person or an animal in need. This makes them the first bird species to pass the test that challenges an animal’s understanding of giving assistance.

Aside from mimicking and helping other animals, African grey parrots can easily beat most toddlers in a Piagetian test. The test measures the parrot’s or the toddler’s understanding of volume. Examiners ask the child or the parrot to choose between glasses that contain a certain amount of juice. It starts out by displaying an identical pair of glasses before pouring the contents into different-sized containers. The child usually ends up choosing the tall-sized container that holds more juice. An average African grey parrot does the same.

Sea lions learn by observing your movements.

Sea Lion
Source: Jason Sung on Unsplash

Just like dolphins, sea lions entertain spectators at waterparks with their fun-filled performances. They learned to follow their trainer’s instructions in hopes of receiving treats. This act alone shows the impressive observation skills of sea lions.

Aside from their unique compliance to trainers, sea lions also display their own Theory of Mind. Experts discovered this feat when they witnessed a group of sea lions communicating by pointing things to each other. So far, other smart animals on our list have never accomplished this.

Among all great apes, gorillas outsmart most humans in different tests.

Source: Simbi Yvan on Unsplash

Other intelligent primates bow down to Great Apes for a reason. Gorillas, in particular, stand out whenever they master skills in a shorter time than most humans. In 2018, the famous Koko the gorilla passed away in his sleep at 46 years old. He gained recognition for mastering sign language throughout his life in captivity. Because of his achievement, experts grabbed the opportunity to raise awareness to communicate without verbal speech.

Meanwhile, another subject for debate falls on the untimely demise of Harambe the gorilla in 2016. Panic ensued when an unsupervised toddler fell into the gorilla’s enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. The incident especially sparked outrage after zoo officials opted to kill Harambe instead of tranquilizing him. This decision left a sour impression on witnesses who saw the gorilla care for the child after the fall. The tragic moment surely left an impression on the ones who witnessed Harambe’s compassion before his death.

Don’t even think about competing against the ravens or crows.

Raven, Crow
Source: Nico Meier on Unsplash

Ravens and crows continue to leave experts in awe for their cleverness. Various studies feature the blackbirds outsmarting some of the most intelligent animals using their impressive problem-solving skills. Because of this, experts believe that this certain member of the Corvid family can compare its cognitive skills to an average 7-year-old human.

Chimpanzees can beat you in various memory tasks.

Source: Satya Deep on Unsplash

Animals using tools easily earn a spot in different lists about the most intelligent animals. However, chimpanzees quickly outsmart others just with the fact that they make their own tools. This skill is attributed to the primates’ exceptional memory. If you want to test your skills against chimps, you can find several online simulations to see who’s the clear winner.

Pigs understand why you cry.

Source: Marek Piwnicki on Unsplash

You’re probably wondering how some people chose to raise pigs as pets instead of adopting a cat or a dog. Well, to put it simply, pigs comprehend human emotions better. In turn, they relay their feelings to their owners as well.

Aside from their empathy, some experts raise pigs to train them to find truffles. Specially trained pigs sometimes develop a unique problem-solving ability that helps them escape mazes or locate certain types of food. Plus, piglets as young as six weeks can easily outsmart toddlers in using mirrors to find food.

Dogs may know you better than you know yourself.

Source: Matt Nelson on Unsplash

You probably expected to see dogs included in our list of most intelligent animals. Man’s best friend definitely earned their spot for being one of the best pets to raise in a home. Living with humans certainly helped dogs develop their cognitive skills. Plus, you don’t have to be a certified trainer to teach your dog some tricks. Average canines adapt to the language they hear from the area they live in.

Portia spiders learn from their mistakes.

Portia Spider
Source: Rodrigo Layug on Flickr

We apologize for giving you another reason to watch out for spiders in the future. Despite not being a danger to humans, the Portia spiders have developed unique problem-solving skills in luring their prey. Because of this, these jumping spiders come up with better hunting strategies using their understanding of trial and error.

Determined to catch a feast, Portia spiders study their targets before forming a plan to strike. If they hope to catch a fellow spider, they observe their tricks to find a weakness. Knowing this, we can just imagine how this type of spider changes its tactics to match with certain prey. Their exceptional hunting skilled caused experts to give Portia spiders the nickname, “eight-legged cats.”

Raccoons might do more than just steal your trash.

Source: Anna Gru on Unsplash

Everyone associates raccoons with theft and robbery. You probably had a raccoon rummage in your trash once or twice. While the mess they leave behind is certainly troublesome, it’s the least thing you should worry about.

If you happen to hear a raccoon going through your trash, you best be chasing them out of your property. Why? Well, experts learned that some raccoons can pick locks without any training beforehand. Not a lot of people study how to pick locks but raccoons just developed that skill on their own. Now it really does feel like there are humans inside these raccoons…

Ancient history trusted pigeons to deliver messages for a reason.

Source: Caitlyn Wilson on Unsplash

Don’t be fooled by a pigeon’s clumsy demeanor because they earned a sure spot in our list of most intelligent animals. These birds became essential in sending messages as early as the 12th century. People in ancient history used the pigeon’s natural homing abilities to carry out simple letters. With their unique abilities, pigeons developed the skill to differentiate images. This further boosted their means of flying to various locations.

Scientists conduct experiments on rats and mice with good reason.

White Mouse
Source: May on Unsplash

Scientists commonly use rats and mice in different kinds of studies. However, this did not come from being gullible rodents. Experts use rats and mice because of their fascinating cognitive skills. They can easily outsmart most humans with their exceptional problem-solving skills and memory. Rats and mice use these abilities to memorize paths that help them escape from mazes. Despite the small size of their brains, these rodents adapt to almost all situations that involve the further advancement of science.

Chickens take note of colors and shapes.

Source: Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

People usually raise chickens as part of livestock on farms. But did you know that you can train chickens? They can notice the differences in shapes and colors in their surroundings. You might see some of these birds checking their food before they proceed to peck on them. Chickens avoid some of the dirt that might look like their meal. With this, it’s sure that they can distinguish the type of food you feed to them on a regular basis.

Honey bees settle disagreements by dancing the night away.

Honey Bees, bees
Source: Scott Hogan on Unsplash

Much like other insects, honey bees go head-to-head with fellow stingers who wronged them. However, their fight may not be the one you’d imagine. Honey bees developed their own form of “swarm intelligence.” They usually work together in colonies under their respective queens but disputes happen now and then.

To settle their differences, honey bees engage in a dance battle. No, you didn’t misread anything. These bees compete in a dance-off to end their arguments. It may sound odd but this method of settling disputes showcases the intelligence of bees. They all follow a set of rules that ensures peace in their colony. In a similar manner, we humans established governments to instill laws and rules.

Squirrels know how to outsmart traps.

Source: Isaac Sloman on Unsplash

As we always mentioned in this article, never underestimate even the most unassuming animals. This includes the seemingly harmless squirrels that are usually seen scurrying across backyards. They may not directly cause any harm to humans but their determination to gather food is too astounding not to shed light on.

YouTuber and former NASA engineer Mark Rober posted a video of him setting up mechanical traps for the squirrels stealing bird feed from his backyard. Despite several upgrades on the traps, the squirrels always managed to outsmart the traps that Rober changed throughout the video. In the end, he provided food for the squirrels and the birds visiting his backyard.

Cats maximize their observation skills.

Cats, kittens
Source: Jari Hytönen on Unsplash

Ancient Egyptians regarded this certain intelligent animal as a deity. Cat lovers can tell you right off the bat that taking care of cats is not easy. Like dogs, cats gained popularity for being a common choice of pet. However, not all feline owners get the cuddles you see going viral on social media. In fact, cats behave like picky humans.

Pet cats closely watch their owners’ actions to hone tricks of their own. Their learning method made experts believe that these beloved felines compare to the intelligence level of a 2-year-old toddler. However, their memory skills excel more than that of most humans.

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